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Hey guys,

This episode of 31/7 is all about Arsenal... again! Like it or not, they're kind of a big deal. Just as Chelsea have Emma Hayes, Arsenal have a razor-sharp commercial strategy. Only one of these clubs will lose their lethal weapon at the end of this season, and we'll find out which bears greater fruit in a few years' time.

That's right, people are turning a profit off of lady-footballers, at last, and this week I'm thinking about how to make money while also thinking of the lady-footballers themselves! Not as straight-forward as you might imagine!

As ever, thank you for reading, and please do let me know your thoughts on this and any other matter by emailing me at [email protected].

Flora :)

A Cut Above The Rest

Those Arsenal fans aggrieved that their dream of winning the Women’s Super League title effectively ended on Friday didn’t have to wait long before an exciting newsflash distracted the pain away.

On Monday, Arsenal announced that after they’d collected their ‘also-ran’ medals at the end of the season, a jet would fly the lasses down under for a special exhibition match against the ‘A League Women Allstars’ in May.

‘Who are the A League Women Allstars?’ I hear you cry. Well, they’re the best footballers that Australia’s semi-professional domestic league can offer, a motley selection of poor souls thrown together to try and keep the likes of Beth Mead and Stina Blackstenius at bay.
But this isn’t about winning or losing, really, it’s about parading the horses around the ring. No, this glamorous fixture isn’t intended to put smiles back on the faces of those who have been disappointed by Arsenal’s failure to take the Championship. The people that this event has been organised for don't know about Gunners’ ‘keeper Manu Zinsberger, may never have even seen her famous impression of Windows Vista when you ask it to do too many things at once.

Australia went absolutely barmy for women’s football last summer, when Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth hosted the most ginormous women’s world cup there has ever been. Soccer, as they call it, has never really been a big deal over there, but Sam Kerr’s epic solo goal against the Lionesses was one of many moments which transformed local attitudes toward the sport.

That makes Australia fertile ground in which to plant seeds of fandom for any women’s football club who wants to expand the community of people willing to follow, support and give money to them.
Arsenal are the most commercially-savvy of the UK’s women’s football teams. Their sell-out Emirates games have brought in big gate receipts, while the spectacle encouraged new fans to buy a shirt on their way out, or consider a season ticket for the 2024/25 campaign. And to tease the wallets of a relatively new community thrown together by the ‘coolness’ of the Lionesses, what could be more ‘cool’ than having a bespoke away kit created by haute couture fashion designer Stella McCartney?

Frankly, Arsenal deserve every penny that comes their way, having stood by their women’s side through thick and thin. Manchester United only re-introduced their women’s side five years ago, more than a decade after it was deemed “unprofitable” and disbanded in 2005. The Gunners, meanwhile, have supported theirs continuously for nearly four decades, in spite of the fact that women’s football making money is a brand new concept.

So no, Arsenal, I won’t judge your efforts to recruit new fans, even if it is a criminal waste of the world’s natural resources to fly a party of 30-odd people to the other side of the world and back for the sake of one competitively meaningless game of football.

…or will I?
Tooneh and Stanweh
The critical, glaring context here is that Arsenal are operating amid a huge and necessary conversation regarding the impact of the astronomic rise in interest of women’s football and the associated escalation of activity on those that are providing it — the players.

Sam Kerr is probably pretty chuffed to have sold her face to Meta to create confounding AI alter-ego ‘Good Time Sal’ and Leah Williamson looks to have been having a lovely time glammed up on red carpets. However, in between cheques and camera flashes, the pair have both suffered the trial of recovering from an ACL injury.

Gender-biased health research means that we don’t have a clear understanding of why so many women footballers are having trouble with their knees — and some of the money generated by smart clubs like Arsenal may well be committed to solving this problem — but it doesn’t take a medic to recognise that a tool will wear out if you use it too much.

Professional male footballers have been preparing their bodies for a taxing schedule of training, games, recovery and fitness since childhood, but Leah Williamson would never have dreamed of the professional demands that are now being made of her and her teammates. No one expected she would play this much, so no one prepared her limbs for the shock of it all. If women footballers are to play more matches in order to entertain the rapidly-growing community of fans, that increase must happen in a way which considers and protects players’ bodies and minds.

Last month the Guardian reported that clubs are up in arms about the amount of time the FA has requested that the Lionesses spend on training camp under Sarina Wiegman before their European Championship qualifiers this summer. When will the gals get a rest?
Historically, Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall has been vocal on this point. In November 2022, Gunners striker Vivianne Miedema was granted a leave of absence from club duties in order to rest and recharge.

Eidevall said: “I really think it’s something that we need to consider in women’s football when we see the calendar – to see how we put the players’ health first here. They are constantly going between really competitive games at club level onto an international level.

“It has been taking up a lot of my thinking time because my gut feeling says that we’re not creating something that is good for the players at the moment. So my idea, off the top of my head, was that in the calendar, you should have protected periods for the players where no club football and no national team football should be played.

“Because at the moment, you end up with players that barely have any vacation at all. And it’s consecutive year after year after year. So it’s really fine that we’re going to play more competitive games – that’s great.

“But let’s create a calendar that allows for the players to also recover, so we can have quality.”

It seems strange, then, that he should be the one marching a bunch of knackered players onto a long-haul flight to the southern hemisphere mere days after the Women’s Super League concludes.
Here is what the upcoming schedule of Leah Williamson could look like, if Eidevall drags her along:

18th May — final WSL game of the season, at home to Brighton and Hove Albion, London
24th May — exhibition match vs A League All-Stars, Melbourne
31st May — Euro 2025 qualifier home to France, Newcastle
4th June — Euro 2025 qualifier away to France, somewhere in France

Williamson would then have a fortnight to herself before the FA invite her back to prepare for the Euro 2025 qualifiers happening in June. Sound crazy? It is! And the silver lining for the Lionesses’ failure to qualify for the Olympics was supposed to be a big juicy rest.

It’s possible that this won’t concern Williamson at all, and that the plane to Oz will be stuffed with academy players that haven’t played quite so much and the three show ponies, Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord, and Kyra Cooney-Cross, who won the hearts of Australians as key players in the Matildas team that finished fourth at the 2023 World Cup.

Who cares! So long as they’re wearing the Arsenal shirt, with the Arsenal badge, and the Arsenal socks (too soon?) — that’ll be enough to get the sokah-hungry Aussies hooked on the coolest footie brand that England has to offer.

Things I dig this week

Coming Up

  • Thursday — Division One North
    • Leeds United Women host York City at Garforth Town, where the pitch will hopefully hold up after a series of cancellations ☔️
  • Saturday — Women's Super League
    • It's a MANCHUSTAH DERBEH at the Etihad.
    • Level on points with leaders Chelsea, City must not let their red counterparts leave with ANYTHING to keep the best chance of lifting the league trophy.
    • If City win, Yanited are at risk of sinking to fifth place.
  • Sunday — Women's Super League
    • It's a LIVERPEWL DERBY at Goodison Park.
    • Liverpool will fancy their chances of leapfrogging Man Utd as Everton have lost four of their last five games.
  • Wednesday — Champions League
    • Chelsea play the second leg of their quarter-final against Ajax.
    • The Blues will start their Stamford Bridge showdown with a three-goal advantage after a massive first-leg win in Amsterdam.

More at The Square Ball

A photograph of Sarah Danby playing for Leeds United Women against some team in red

Spiritually: Top of the League

by Flora Snelson

Actually: Leeds United Women are failing to take the chances to get the results that would put them there.
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